Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Well, time to wrap up a month full of fantasy with one of the great (and gory) classics of the genre.

BERSERK (Beruseruku), by Kentaro Miura.  First published in 1990, and first published in North America in 2003.

Somewhere, a kingdom lies in chaos.  Demons and monsters of every shape and size wander the lands, preying on all those they meet.  Those without power are helpless before them; those with power wheel and deal behind the scenes to either save themselves or satisfy their own dark purposes.  It seems no person can stand up to such evil...that is, no person except Guts, the notorious Black Swordsman.  He is a mercenary cursed to roam the earth, bearing a brand that draws the demons to him.  His only goal is to survive, and to do so he must slay any demon that crosses his path and those who would interfere.

I might as well get the most obvious question out of the way.  If you're wondering why that description above does not include mentions of Griffith, Casca, or the Band of the Hawk, then I'm afraid that your storyline is in another volume.  The beginning of this series is a one-man show, and that man is the grim and bloody Guts.

Guts is a hard man to like.  He's terse and nihilistic, a man with no sympathy towards those who do not fight.  He doesn't battle demons out of any sense of doing good, but instead to lash out at those who would kill him first.  His body bears numerous scars from battles past - a missing eye, a metal arm, and most notably a strange brand on the back of his neck.  He is an incredibly strong man, wielding a sword that, in the words of Miura himself, is "massive, thick, heavy, and far too rough.  Indeed, it was like a heap of raw iron."  It's a wonderfully evocative phrase, and one that not only sums up the sword, but the man who wields it as well.

It's easy to see how such a dark and depressing world could spawn a man like Guts.  It's a world that's positively soaked in sex, death and violence.  Miura makes no bones about establishing that right away, as we start with Guts having sex with an anonymous woman.  She transforms into a squirming mass of teeth and tentacles, and he in turn slays her without so much as a word.  It's a cruel and truly medieval world, one where it's hard to tell the difference between the corrupt lords seeking profit and those who are themselves demons.  Such a world might cross the line into pure grimdark exaggeration if not for the little bit of levity known as Puck.

Puck is our comic relief, a captured elf who keeps running into Guts as the story progresses.  You can understand why Miura needed to add a character like him.  He keeps things from getting too depressingly serious, and he also gives Guts someone to talk to, someone with whom to share exposition.  That being said, I can also understand why so many fans of the series considering him incredibly annoying.  He may be called an elf, but he's more like a fairy in looks and attitude.  He's childish and more than a little naïve.  He inserts himself into situation without asking or thinking, and more than once gets into trouble because of it.  In many ways, Puck's personality is just as much an extreme as Guts' nihilism, and extreme personalities can often be grating.

There's not much of a continuous arc here.  Every few chapters or so, Guts moves on somewhere else, discovers the whereabouts of another demons and sets out to kill it.  Miura knows well to pace these episodes well, letting things build until it explodes in an orgy of blood.  Every new fight builds up the world he has created, letting us learn a little more about either the world itself or about Guts.  Miura is clearly playing things close to his chest and planning things out in the long run, which mercifully means that there are no pages-long founts of exposition.  Berserk is beautifully balanced in its darkness, always keeping things moving forward.  Guts may not be a sympathetic sort of man, but he is oddly compelling, and one can't help but want to see just what evil force he will fight next.

Miura's work on Berserk precedes him, as many consider him one of the best and most elaborate manga artists still working.  Even at this early stage, I can see how he would earn such a reputation.  His attention to detail is stunning, and his imagination clearly takes as many cues from Hieronymous Bosch and H.P. Lovecraft as it does from more standard fantasy art.  Miura hasn't quite reached the fantastical heights of his most recent chapters here, but it's still leagues beyond what most mangaka were doing in 1990.  Hell, it's still leagues beyond what most manga art looks like now. 

His characters are solid and surely drawn, aided by the rich and dense shading and hatching.  The designs of the demons are suitably strange and grotesque, and Puck can be both delicately, androgynously beautify as well as silly and almost chibi-esque with his over-the-top reactions.  Miura does not shy away from the violence, as many a page features bodies being hacked and slashed as dark, thick splashes of ink issue forth.  Miura does not waste one bit of space, filling nearly every panel with richly detailed backgrounds and composing his panels with the eye of a cinematographer. Berserk's is truly epic in the traditional sense of the world.  It's a true feast for the eyes, at least for those able to stomach its content.

Berserk is a glorious, gory fantasy epic, a truly one-of-a-kind work.  Its story, while extreme in content, is compelling, and the art is nothing short of exquisite.

This series is released by Dark Horse.  This series is ongoing in Japan, with 37 volumes available.  All 37 have been released and are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!

Monday, July 21, 2014


Today's review could have easily fit in with last month's theme as it does with this month's, being an adaptation of a television series.  If only it were an adaptation of a GOOD series.

RECORD OF LODOSS WAR: CHRONICLES OF THE HEROIC KNIGHT (Rodosu-to Senki: Eiyu Kishi-den), adapted from the light novel series by Ryo Mizuno & drawn by Masato Natsumoto.  First published in 1998, and first published in North America in 2003.

Years have passed since the legendary knight Parn conquered the forces of evil and saved the island of Lodoss.  Now an apprentice knight named Spark wants nothing more than to follow in Parn's example and become a full-fledged knight.  It's too bad for him that once again, he failed to qualify.  Things get only worse when he manages to get himself a guard job at the royal castle, only to have a bunch of dark elves break in and steal a magical artifact.  The king commands Spark to take back the stolen artifact, and now it seems that Spark just may get his wish.  So, he and his band of fellow warriors must set off to find the artifact, defeat the dark elves, and save the day once more.

Lodoss War is less of a series and more of a franchise.  It started in the 80s when Mizuno literally started doing write-ups of the games of Dungeons & Dragons that he and a bunch of fellow authors were playing.  These grew so popular that he turned them into a light novel series, which in turn inspired a popular OVA, comedy spin-offs, manga series, a TV series with a great opening and little else, and even more manga series.  This manga fits in that very last category, which to many would be a black mark against it right from the beginning.  Now, I'm only familiar with the Lodoss War franchise in name only, so I hope I can give this series something resembling a fair shot.

Unfortunately, that might hurt my enjoyment of the series simply because this is a direct sequel to Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch (which was inspired by the OVA).  The main cast from that story make cameo appearances here, and it's clearly supposed to be a big and exciting thing.  In many ways, we're supposed to be geeking out over their appearance in much the same way our lead does.  This also means that this series has something of the same problem that I had with the Tenchi Muyo review I did so long ago: it requires you to do some homework.  Again, like Tenchi this wouldn't have been so much of an issue when this book was first released, but pretty much everything Lodoss related has long since fallen out of print with the closure of Central Park Media.  As such, most modern fans won't be familiar with the original story, much less the sequel.

This story really does feel like reading through a D&D dungeon master's notes, because our lead and party fit almost perfectly into the classes we've all come to associate with that series and those like it.  We have a knight, a mercenary, a wizard, a half-elf, a cleric, and even a thief or rogue class by the end of the volume.  The most creative they get with these types is making the cleric a dwarf instead of an elf.  I could have lived with the blatant lifting of D&D classes if these characters had decently developed personalities.  Alas, they mostly live up to the stereotypes, and those that don't have equally one-note personalities.  Not even Spark is immune - his every thought and action is driven by his need to become a knight, and it gets tiresome after a while.  They don't get any more creative with the villains either.  They are an equally stereotypical collection of goblins, dark elves, and an evil king.  Naturally, these evil races are just as awful in looks as they are in morality, except for the females who look like beautiful women with darker skin and some funny ears.

The story follows a pattern that would also be familiar to RPG players.  The first half is spent setting up Spark and going through roll call for the previous warriors. The second half sets up the quest, gathers the warriors, and even gets through the first of what I'm sure are many a boss fight.  Even their motivation is rather generic, in that these evil forces want to take over the world (OF COURSE!) and our heroes are the only ones who can stop them.  The whole story just begs for more personality and more creativity.  To continue the D&D theme, what this story really needs is a more imaginative DM, because I feel like freaking Queen's Blade did more to create an original story from tabletop RPG resources, and Queen's Blade is little more than a parade of boobs in crazy costumes.

While the story is derivative, the artwork is not.  Natsumoto's artwork is handsome and detailed.  The characters are handsome, well-built, well-detailed, and the fanservice is kept to the barest of minimums.  The worst is gets is with Laila, the rogue/thief sort, who wears something that doesn't so much say 'medieval fantasy' as it does '80s hair metal groupie.'  I only wish these nicely drawn character don't exist in a more visually interesting world.  Natsumoto keeps things pretty tightly focused on the cast, so we never really get a sense of scale to the world of Lodoss. Worse still, it makes the fights harder to follow.  The biggest artisitic failing of this work isn't the fault of the artist, but instead the fault of Central Park Media.  No, it's not the fact that this was released flipped.  It's that the first half of the volume I read has bizarrely pale pages. They resemble nothing so much as a bad photocopy.  Things improve as the volume goes on, but it's clearly a printing issue and it does distract from the work as a whole.

Central Park Media did have the good sense to include a lot of surprisingly dense notes about the world of Lodoss and all the races and concepts within that universe.  I only wish all this information could have been woven into the story organically, as it would have helped to give it some well-needed depth.

The quality of the artwork elevates this just beyond the point of a red light, and I do truly mean just beyond that point.  I think I can begin to understand why this particular part of the Lodoss universe isn't so popular.  It's got a very derivative tabletop RPG structure and it doesn't supplement that with some personality or originality, and it requires watching or reading another series to put this one into context.  It's by no means offensive, but it is rather dull as a result.

This series was published by Central Park Media.  The series is complete in 6 volumes, and is currently out of print. 

You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Today's review comes from a source that is shockingly rare in fantasy manga - a novel series.  You can find plenty of original stories, many based on video games, some even based on someone's Dungeon & Dragons notes, but literary sources are rarer than you would think.

GUIN SAGA: THE SEVEN MAGI (Guin Saga Shichinin Nomadoshi), adapted from the novel series by Kaoru Kurimoto & drawn by Kazuaki Yanasigawa.  First published in 2001, and first published in North America in 2007.

In the kingdom of Cylon, the leopard-headed warrior Guin rules over all.  He has barely had time to adjust to life as both a king and husband before things begin to go wrong.  A terrible plague is coursing through the land, turning its victims into black-limbed husks.  Times are so desperate that some have taken to killing innocents because they believe bathing in blood will protect them.  When Guin tries to investigate the source of the plague, he is led to a red light district that is concealing all sorts of dark secrets.  There he finds spider demons, witches, wizards, and a spunky dancer girl who becomes a companion.

Guin soon learns the terrible truth:  he is the cause of all the supernatural misfortune in his kingdom.  His strange appearance and strong spirit has drawn them to his kingdom, and they are determined to make him and his people suffer.  Now Guin must set forth to discover the source of the evil and eradicate it once and for all.

Guin Saga's reputation is more than a little intimidating.  It's a light novel series that ran well over 100 volumes before the author's recent death.  While the main series was complete, she died while working on a number of side stories. This manga series is based on one those side stories, and that means that you have to simply take some things for granted, because it presumes you are already familiar with the main story line.  You simply have to accept things like a man with a leopard's head because...well, just because.

I also suspect that the plot's rather jumpy tone also can be blamed on the story presuming you are familiar with the main story in the first place.  You start out with the plague, and then BAM! SPIDER DEMONS EATIN' WHORES!  By the time you begin to come to terms with that, the story decides to spend an inordinate amount of time in a witches' lair, where a nearly naked black witch speaks a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo while hitting on Guin.  Things only start to come back into focus once they find a headless wizard (don't worry, he gets better).  He's the one who makes the connection between everything from the spider demons to Guin's marital troubles with his distant, disdainful queen to Guin.  The end result is a perfectly good way to start a quest, but it feels like it takes forever for the story to get to a point and that it needlessly makes things confusing.

Speaking of pointless and confusing, let's talk about Guin's new friend Valusa.  She's a whore "dancer" who alerted Guin to the spider demon in the first place.  Since she's out of a job, Guin takes her in.  She's grateful, but she mostly expresses her gratitude by trying to sleep with Guin.  Thankfully, we're saved from this uncomfortable situation by the aforementioned prophecy, and Valusa insists upon following Guin on his quest.  There's nothing wrong with her being grateful for his help and wanting to help fight, but she seems like she will be more of a liability than anything else.  She hasn't demonstrated any particular skill for fighting or magic wielding.  She doesn't hold any sort of literal or metaphorical key to solving Guin's problem.  Unless she's planning to help Guin with the power of fanservice, I don't see much point to Valusa and her place in the story.

I had high hopes for this story because of its literary sources, and I feel like the story was starting to shape up into something interesting.  The problem is that it takes far too long to get to that point, and throws in some pointless fanservice to boot, and all it does is leave the reader adrift in confusion.

Once again, I found a manga series that was released in the 2000s, but looks like it was drawn a decade earlier.  The character designs outside of Guin are weird and unappealing.  They remind me a bit of Mazakazu Katsura's (Video Girl Ai, I"s) older style, with their big heads.  Still, those faces contain strange faces, with wide-set eyes and small squashed faces.  Their boobs are also weirdly wide-set, and placed upon short, stocky bodies.  It's really telling that I struggled for a good long while trying to figure out if the witch was drawn in a way that could be construed as racist.  Ultimately, I concluded that it wasn't the case because she didn't look any stranger than most of the cast; almost everyone was badly drawn. 

Yanigasawa does try his best to put some life and detail into the artwork. The backgrounds are well-detailed, and the monsters are fantastical and strange.  The panels are large and uncluttered, which at least means that he can't take any blame in how hard the story can be to follow.  It's just that the art is kind of strange and off-putting and doesn't entirely mesh with the story.

There are flashes of inspiration here and there in both the story and art, but the story is a little too convoluted for its own good and the art is a little too squashed and strange to appeal.  I hate to say it, but Vertical kind of got stuck with a dud here.

This series is published by Vertical.  5 volumes were released, and are currently out of print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Of course, not all fantasy manga are serious business.  Sometimes people try to make light of the genre through comedy.  The only question is if they can actually write good comedy or not.

SORCERER HUNTERS (Bakuretsu Hunter), written by Satoru Akahori & drawn by Ray Omishi.  First published in 1993, and first published in North America in 2000.

In a far-off world, the everyday Parsoners are ruled by the magic wielding Sorcerers.  Unfortunately not all of them do so fairly and justly.  Thankfully, there is a system in place for maintaining justice in such a world.  When the mysterious being known only as Big Mama detects some evil Sorcerer plot, she sends out her faithful Sorcerer Hunters to stop them.  The team is composed of strong, quiet Marron Glace, tiny little Tira Misu whose meek exterior hides a shockingly kinky power, and Carrot Glace, who mostly prefers to chase girls and wealth, but when necessary has the ability to absorb magical damage and use it to transform into various magical beasts.  Together, they can stand up to the most powerful of Sorcerers...that is, when they CAN work together.

To truly put this series into proper context, we have to start by talking about Slayers.  That series started as a light novel series back in 1989, and it became a huge hit, spawning all sorts of manga and multiple seasons of an equally popular anime.  Its unique combination of fantasy adventure plot and character-driven comedy works in a way that few series can pull off.  Of course, like any popular franchise, it also spawned a lot of imitators.  Amongst those imitators is Sorcerer Hunters.

Sorcerer Hunters isn't driven by a single continuous plot, but instead is a monster-of-the-week style story.  The gang are tasked to find a villain, they fight, they defeat said villain, and the whole thing starts over again.  Akahori stuck to this story structure very hard, and it only takes a couple of times for it to get boring.  It's not helped by the fact that he keeps using the same old gimmick of having some hapless girl put in danger by that chapter's villain.  She has either lost some one due to the villain's action or she is being held captive by the villain.  Every single time, she is there only for cheap drama and to give Carrot something to perv over.

Carrot's perviness and desperation is a joke Akahori hammers on time and time again, just like every other running gag in the story.  It wants you to laugh every time Tira throws off her cape and shades to reveal her dominatrix gear.  It even wants you to laugh at the main trio's goofy dessert-themed names.  Too bad that it all just reeks of trying too hard.  It, like the many other Slayers rip-offs, miss the reason why that series was funny and the others were not.  Slayers' comedy was more situational than it was personality-based.  That main cast wasn't necessarily goofy by nature; the jokes came more from their reactions to the plot and how those reactions run contrary to fantasy convention.  Here the characters aren't really characters, just a single gag personified.  The characters never change, and neither does the joke. 

So if the comedy part of the story is a failure, what about the fantasy parts?  In a word, meh.  The concept of a magic ruling class abusing the normals is really basic, but it's a perfectly fine skeleton upon which to build a plot.  The problem is that we never really learn more about this world.  Who is this Big Mother figure?  Is she a goddess or some sort of magical entity?  How does magic work in this world?  What produces the difference between Sorcerers and Parsoners - is it a hereditary or racial difference, or is it something that can be taught?  I'm not exactly expecting this silly comedy to turn into a Tolkien work, but even the most light-hearted fantasy needs some sort of structure or rules to define what is and isn't possible. 

Sorcerer Hunters is a failure on every front.  The comedy is lame and the fantasy elements are too thinly sketched to support even its own simple premise.  I can't imagine this was all that funny when the series was brand new.  These days it might as well be a fossil.

The artwork is typical of that seen in 1990s manga.  There are plenty of big chins, tiny heads, poofy hair,  and those inexplicable little hatchmarks on a character's face which either indicate eyelashes or cheekbones to go around.  While most everyone is distinct, I'm a little disappointed that Omishi clearly took a lot of visual cues from Lina Inverse when drawing Tira.  You can't tell me that his version of a tiny, ginger, hot-headed heroine wasn't influenced by Lina.  She's also the one responsible for most of the fanservice in this volume, as every time she takes off her clothes the panels explode into huge splash panels to better show off all her leather and fishnets, wielding her whip with wild abandon.  It's tame by today's standards, but it's still pretty shameless.

Still, it's preferable to the actual action here, because Omishi adds so many speedlines, explosions, and sound effects (clunkily translated and reinserted) that it's all but obscured.  It's even hard to literally read, thanks to Tokyopop's bizarre choice of font.  Instead of using the Comic Sans-esque font that most of their later works used, they used a strange, brushstroke-like font that reminds me of written Hebrew.  It's certainly not done to make things more readable or add any sort of emphasis, and it only just adds to the visual carwreck that is the art of Sorcerer Hunters. 

The comedy is flat, the art stinks, and it's a blatant rip-off of a far better series.  Yeah, there's a lot of good reasons that Slayers is still fondly remembered while series like Sorcerer Hunters have been all but forgotten.

This series was published by Tokyopop.  All 13 volumes were released, and all are currently out of print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!

Friday, July 4, 2014


This month we're going to take a sort of mental escape from the oppressive heat with a month full of fantasy titles, starting with a little-known title from CMX that should be better known.

On a totally unrelated note, my first review is up at Infinite Rainy Day!  A while back I reviewed the first volume of Codename Sailor V.  Find out what my thoughts were on the full series here!

Anyway!  Back to the review...

THE KEY TO THE KINGDOM (Ohkoku no Kagi), by Kyoko Shitou.  First published in 2003, and first published in North America in 2007.

The kingdom of Landor is locked into a seemingly endless war with its neighbors, where even the king and the eldest prince Winslott are out on the frontlines fighting for their nation.  Meanwhile, Winslott's younger brother Astarion is content to study and play with his old friend Leticia.  When news of the death of both his father and brother arrives, the kingdom is in disarray.  Astarion had no desire to rule, and the people of Landor agree that he is an ill fit for the throne.  Worse still, greedy noblemen see this as their opportunity to rule, and the country is all but fit for civil war.  To stave off disaster, the queen issues a challenge.  Those of royal blood may prove their worth by returning within two years with the mythical Key to the Kingdom.  If found, that person becomes king or queen; if not, then Astarion becomes king after the two years has ended.

Now Astarion must set out with his brother's right-hand general Baddarius to find the Key and save their nation, but within a short time their quest uncovers secrets long forgotten.  They discover the dragon men, crafty mythical beings said to possess knowledge of the Key.  They also discover that the dragons themselves may not be as extinct as previously presumed.

There's something to be said for a genuinely well-crafted fantasy story, one that takes those well-worn tropes and stitches them together in such a fashion as to make something greater than the sum of its parts., along with a neat little twist or two along the way.

The biggest twist of them all is in Asta himself.  He's not precisely the Campbellian ideal of a fantasy hero.  He's no poor soul waiting for a chance to prove himself.  If anything, he's prissy and a little bit spoiled.  He dislikes debauchery and violence, he's frequently picked on by others, and has no real goal in life beyond study.  He accepts his quest not out of desire for glory or power, but to keep it from those who are so blatantly evil that they might as well sport some mustaches for twirling. This is a character that has a long way to go before he's ready to rule anything.

Once the quest begins, the story becomes something more akin to a buddy cop feature, with Asta chafing against Badd's...well, everything.  He's much more of a comic relief character, with the running gag about his many, many, MANY women on the side, and he loves nothing more than to tweak an uptight kid like Asta.  Still, he's a good soldier, and when the chips are down he is a loyal one as well.  Indeed, the very reason he's looking over Asta is because Winslott asked Badd to upon his deathbed, and near the end of the volume Badd literally puts his life on the line for Asta. 

Another interesting twist on a character is Leticia, Asta's friend.  When you first meet her, you expect her to be the love interest.  She's pretty, bubbly, optimistic, and loyal to a fault towards Asta.  Thus, it's surprising when she volunteers herself to join the quest for the Key.  Even then, she's still supportive of Asta and wishes his the very best.  She even shows a fair degree of intelligence under that perky exterior.  Her group is composed of seasoned soldiers, and her first step is to seek out an old hermit said to know about the Key and the dragon men who made it.  I'm glad that Shitou lets her be an active character of her own within the story, instead of simply cheerleading others from the sides.

If it isn't evident by now, Shitou puts a lot of emphasis on character building.  Sadly this comes at the price of world building.  We know only the basics about Landor and the war, and there's little context for where Landor is in context to its neighbors or precisely which way the different parties are travelling.  There is one part of the world Shitou focuses on, though - dragons.  Dragons play a major role in the mythology of this world.  It was by slaying the dragons into extinction that Asta's royal house came into power.  It was the magicians of old who crafted the key through the use of the dragons' magic, and it is their descendants, the dragon men, who still wield these powers and who know the secrets of the Key to the Kingdom.  The dragon men are pretty much this world's equivalent of elves (the Tolkien kind, not the shoemaking kind).  They are ethereally beautiful, androgynous, wise, secretive, and distrusted by humankind because of their tendency to talk in cryptic riddles.  We meet two of them along the way, and it's clear by volume's end that they have an agenda and conflict of their own, and it is one that isn't really concerned with the quest of a few petty humans.

Much like the dragon men, the story keeps much information to itself, revealing just enough for the reader to understand without looking any sense of suspense.  Like Asta, the reader is left wanting to know more.  The ending also packs quite the punch, even for a cliffhanger, but sadly to explain more would spoil the whole thing.  Still, it's a grand way to wrap up the beginning of a great little fantasy series.  It's very much a shoujo story at heart, as the focus isn't on battle and bosses as it is on the characters and the relationships around them.  There's a lot of familiar elements at play, but her investment in those characters give it just enough of a difference to intrigue the reader and leave them wanting more.

It was weird to discover that this series began its run in 2003, because if you had asked me before then when this series was published, it would have presumed it debuted a decade before then.  Shitou's style is classic 90s shoujo, right down to the pointy chinned, jewel-eyed bishonen scattered about like so much confetti.  Shitou's art is undeniably pretty with its exquisite little details.  Hair flows and falls in delicate waves.  Costumes are full of folds, ribbons, and patterns.  Even the backgrounds, as sparse as the landscapes often are, are well-drawn.  While there's a certain degree of flatness to it all due to Shitou's seeming distaste for shading, she does manage to strike a careful balance between letting her cast express themselves without sacrificing the beauty of the art.  All too often, shoujo artists who focus on the pretty art end up creating a bunch of beautiful mannequins who do not act so much as pose across the pages.

It's hard to find much background information on Shitou, but I feel like I can pin down at least a couple of her influences.  One of them is CLAMP, specifically their older works.  This is hardly an unusual thing, but it would explain why Asta looks like he could be Subaru Sumeragi's identical twin brother.  I also suspect she is a fan of Yoshitaka Amano, of Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D fame.  They both share a certain degree of delicacy to their work, plus one of the dragon men looks very much like a bishie-fied version of D himself, right down to the costume.  I do wish they could have included more color pages, because if the cover is any indication, it would be beautiful.  I like the soft color palette she uses for it, along with her use of colored pencil for a medium - a rarity for color manga artwork.

While The Key to the Kingdom may have a very old-fashioned look, it's a look that has aged beautifully thanks to the artist's careful attention to detail.

The Key to the Kingdom is yet another underrated gem from the CMX library.  It's a shame that Shitou had such a short career, with only two works to her name.  Worse still, this is the only complete one we ever got on these shores, as the other saw only a single volume through ADV's short-lived manga line.  If anything, though, it makes this series all the more precious in my eyes, and makes all the more worth seeking out.

This series was published by CMX.  All 6 volumes were released, and all are currently out of print.

You can purchase manga like this and much more through RightStuf.com!